Innovations in Smart Energy: Using IT and Other Advances to Curb Runaway Dependence on Fossil Fuels

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solar power production as clouds pass overhead. Alex Guazzelli of San Diego’s Zementis talked about the company’s capabilities in software analytics, and how pattern recognition technology that is used to assess the risk of a fraudulent credit card transaction also can be used to identify power grid components at risk of failing. And Terry Mohn of Balance Energy, explained how electricity from PV solar can suddenly change by 1,000 volts—enough to blow out the utility’s nearest transformer. Mohn described how “microgrids” could help utilities match energy supply with demand—or balance the load—by providing extra energy into a regional power grid at times when renewable power production falls off.

I thought it was interesting that Mohn, who also serves as vice-chairman of the non-profit GridWise Alliance, says state regulatory mandates that require utilities to get 20 percent, 33 percent, and even 40 percent of their power from renewable energy sources have been far more effective in driving energy innovation than “cap and trade” proposals that would allow utilities to swap their CO2 pollution.

Some other observations that stood out for me:

—In his case study presentation, EcoDog founding CEO Ron Pitt said he initially thought data that would be generated by his home energy monitoring device would be hosted in the cloud, but he changed his mind when he realized how revealing the information would be. In a pilot trial, Pitt said, “We were able to tell that the homeowner had a glass of milk at midnight, because we could see the change in energy use when the refrigerator door opened.” EcoDog’s device instead sends its energy consumption data to the user’s personal computer.

—The presentation by Achates Power CEO David Johnson served as a reminder at just how far we have to go in terms of improving energy efficiencies. Achates has developed a high-efficiency diesel-powered combustion engine that is targeting the market for commercial trucks and long-haul transportation, where he says 2 percent of the vehicles are using 20 percent of the fuel. While a conventional gasoline engine operates at 30 to 35 percent efficiency, and a conventional diesel engine operates at 40 to 45 percent, Johnson says Achates’ design operates at 50 to 55 percent efficiency. There’s also still plenty of room for innovation in photovoltaic solar cells, where commercial solar panel currently operates at about 20 percent efficiency (with researchers working with experimental PV attaining efficiencies of more than 40 percent). The current electricity generation and transmission system in the United States operates at an efficiency of about 32 percent, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

David Johnson of Achates Power

David Johnson of Achates Power

Qualcomm’s Manuel Jaime outlined what he calls “the promise and peril” that electric vehicles pose for utilities, and how a … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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